How to Avoid the 5 Worst Living Room Design Mistakes | Kanebridge News
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How to Avoid the 5 Worst Living Room Design Mistakes

Layouts that thwart conversation. Furniture that’s too chunky. Rugs that are too runty. Design pros share the living-room decor mistakes they see most often and how to steer clear.

Fri, Oct 28, 2022 8:01amGrey Clock 4 min

THE RELATIVELY NARROW function of a bedroom or dining room largely dictates those spaces’ décor. A home’s communal chill chamber, however, has to be a lot of things to a lot of people: intimate and sophisticated enough for guests sipping aperitifs and cozy enough for family couch-potato Sundays. With so much asked of living rooms, the potential for decorating missteps can daunt even experts.

Nina Edwards Anker’s first principle: Start with ease—navigability, comfort, visual calm. “The worst error I see in living rooms is overcrowding,” said the founder of New York City’s Nea Studio. “Spaces, like paintings, need room to breathe.” Among her tips: Allow for ample storage to tuck away clutter. Meanwhile, Aileen Warren, of Jackson Warren Interiors in Houston, warns against filling the room with every stick of furniture on your wish list. “Be sure there’s enough space for traffic to move comfortably in and out of the seating groups,” she said.

Here, designers identify five other living-room gaffes they see far too often, and share their professional workarounds.

1. Conversation Pitfalls

“Don’t design a pretty space for a museum when living rooms are for socialising,” said Marissa Stokes, a Ramsey, N.J., designer. Novice decorators goof up here by leaving chasms between seats or, as Susan Jory points out, lining up all the furniture against the wall. “Seldom does one hold court,” said the London, Ontario, interior designer wryly.

Instead: Nurture intimacy with smart seating placement, says Kevie Murphy, of K.A. Murphy Interiors in Manhasset, N.Y. “Add [bonus-seating] ottomans under consoles, position chairs in the corners of the rooms.” A backless divan allows for “double-sided conversation,” she added. “And be sure each seated person has a table to place a drink or cocktail plate.”

2. Puny Rugs

Emily Del Bello, a New York City designer, looks askance at rooms where the carpet is too tiny to anchor more than a coffee table, while the rest of the room’s pieces float about visually untethered.

Instead: “The rug should go under all the furniture in that area, or at the very least, under the front legs of all sofas and chairs,” said Jen Samson, a Laguna Beach, Calif., designer. “This grounds the space and creates a frame [for] the area.”

For clients obsessed with vintage rugs too small for their living rooms, Katie Davis, an interior designer in Houston, layers the collectible pieces onto plenty-big neutral jutes. Some expansive advice: “Always go larger than you think,” directs Emily Williams of Z Properties, a design-build-interiors firm in Winter Park, Fla.

3. Monotony

Almost as unimaginative as a matching set of furniture is a scheme in which every piece conforms to one style, says Isabel Ladd. “When a living room is decorated completely traditional, or completely modern, the room feels stagnant,” said the Lexington, Ky., designer.

Instead: The décor should combine high and low aesthetics, says Paola Zamudio, founder and CEO at Npz Studio+ in New York City, who suggests, for example, “a designer statement piece combined with a vintage décor piece.” Disparate styles can blend within a single object as well. Linen upholstery and graphic embroidered trim can make a sofa with a traditional silhouette feel fresh, said Ms. Ladd.

4. Scale Fails

Dennese Guadeloupe Rojas, principal designer at Interiors by Design in Silver Spring, Md., warns that buying a one-and-done suite from a furniture showroom can saddle you with both a dull room and relentlessly overscale pieces. Benjamin Deaton has seen folks challenged by a small room err in the other direction, yielding to the false hope of “dollhouse furniture.” Said the Lexington, Ky., designer, “What you get is the opposite, a room that looks cluttered and still small.”

Instead: “Mixing the scale of furniture pieces can actually make the room feel larger and have more depth,” said Mr. Deaton. For those contemplating purchasing new furniture, Chicago design pro Bruce Fox recommends using blue tape to map out their footprint on your floor. To estimate their bulk in three dimensions, he suggests “piling other furniture or even empty boxes onto the footprint to mimic the height of the piece and get the full sense of scale.”

5. Dominating Overheads

One is less likely to curl up with a novel or chat for hours with friends under lights that are operating-theatre-bright.

Instead: “Lighting can change the entire landscape of the room,” said Mr. Deaton, who favours a combination of decorative lamps that double as sculpture, overhead lighting and shaded sconces that add texture and glow to a corner space.

Ms. Jory espouses dimmers: “Ambient lighting on tables and walls, paired with ceiling fixtures also on dimmers, provide a wash of warm, inviting light.”

Monster Chairs and More

Design pros recall egregious parlour schemes

“Recently, a client picked a single piece, an oversize armchair, then tried to design her entire living space around it. She realised, after hiring me, that she had to sell the armchair because it clashed with and crowded the sofa and storage cabinet we picked.” —Nina Edwards Anker, founder, Nea Studio, New York City

“The worst is when people purchase multiple pieces of furniture in the same, neutral upholstery fabric. Sure, the goal was to be cohesive, but the result is unfortunately a space that is sterile, slightly cold and without personality.” —Glenna Stone, interior designer, Philadelphia

“I usually see a massive sofa and a bunch of ditzy, underscale pieces because nothing else will fit properly.” —Liz Caan, interior designer, Boston

“I’ve seen large blowup pool toys laying about a primary living room and oversize shiny La-Z-Boys pushed into corners without anything else in the room.” —Melanie Hay, interior designer, Toronto


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GENOA, Italy—Renato Zanelli crossed the finish line with a rusty iron hanging from his neck while pulling 140 pounds of trash on an improvised sled fashioned from a slab of plastic waste.

Zanelli, a retired IT specialist, flashed a tired smile, but he suspected his garbage haul wouldn’t be enough to defend his title as world champion of plogging—a sport that combines running with trash collecting.

A rival had just finished the race with a chair around his neck and dragging three tires, a television and four sacks of trash. Another crossed the line with muscles bulging, towing a large refrigerator. But the strongest challenger was Manuel Jesus Ortega Garcia, a Spanish plumber who arrived at the finish pulling a fridge, a dishwasher, a propane gas tank, a fire extinguisher and a host of other odds and ends.

“The competition is intense this year,” said Zanelli. Now 71, he used his fitness and knack for finding trash to compete against athletes half his age. “I’m here to help the environment, but I also want to win.”

Italy, a land of beauty, is also a land of uncollected trash. The country struggles with chronic littering, inefficient garbage collection in many cities, and illegal dumping in the countryside of everything from washing machines to construction waste. Rome has become an emblem of Italy’s inability to fix its trash problem.

So it was fitting that at the recent World Plogging Championship more than 70 athletes from 16 countries tested their talents in this northern Italian city. During the six hours of the race, contestants collect points by racking up miles and vertical distance, and by carrying as much trash across the finish line as they can. Trash gets scored based on its weight and environmental impact. Batteries and electronic equipment earn the most points.

A mobile app ensures runners stay within the race’s permitted area, approximately 12 square miles. Athletes have to pass through checkpoints in the rugged, hilly park. They are issued gloves and four plastic bags to fill with garbage, and are also allowed to carry up to three bulky finds, such as tires or TVs.

Genoa, a gritty industrial port city in the country’s mountainous northwest, has a trash problem that gets worse the further one gets away from its relatively clean historic core. The park that hosted the plogging championship has long been plagued by garbage big and small.

“It’s ironic to have the World Plogging Championship in a country that’s not always as clean as it could be. But maybe it will help bring awareness and things will improve,” said Francesco Carcioffo, chief executive of Acea Pinerolese Industriale, an energy and recycling company that’s been involved in sponsoring and organizing the race since its first edition in 2021. All three world championships so far have been held in Italy.

Events that combine running and trash-collecting go back to at least 2010. The sport gained traction about seven years ago when a Swede, Erik Ahlström, coined the name plogging, a mashup of plocka upp, Swedish for “pick up,” and jogging.

“If you don’t have a catchy name you might as well not exist,” said Roberto Cavallo, an Italian environmental consultant and longtime plogger, who is on the world championship organizing committee together with Ahlström.

Saturday’s event brought together a mix of wiry trail runners and environmental activists, some of whom looked less like elite athletes.

“We like plogging because it makes us feel a little less guilty about the way things are going with the environment,” said Elena Canuto, 29, as she warmed up before the start. She came in first in the women’s ranking two years ago. “This year I’m taking it a bit easier because I’m three months pregnant.”

Around two-thirds of the contestants were Italians. The rest came from other European countries, as well as Japan, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, Algeria, Ghana and Senegal.

“I hope to win so people in Senegal get enthusiastic about plogging,” said Issa Ba, a 30-year-old Senegalese-born factory worker who has lived in Italy for eight years.

“Three, two, one, go,” Cavallo shouted over a loudspeaker, and the athletes sprinted off in different directions. Some stopped 20 yards from the starting line to collect their first trash. Others took off to be the first to exploit richer pickings on wooded hilltops, where batteries and home appliances lay waiting.

As the hours went by, the athletes crisscrossed trails and roads, their bags became heavier. They tagged their bulky items and left them at roadsides for later collection. Contestants gathered at refreshment points, discussing what they had found as they fueled up on cookies and juice. Some contestants had brought their own reusable cups.

With 30 minutes left in the race, athletes were gathering so much trash that the organisers decided to tweak the rules: in addition to their four plastic bags, contestants could carry six bulky objects over the finish line rather than three.

“I know it’s like changing the rules halfway through a game of Monopoly, but I know I can rely on your comprehension,” Cavallo announced over the PA as the athletes braced for their final push to the finish line.

The rule change meant some contestants could almost double the weight of their trash, but others smelled a rat.

“That’s fantastic that people found so much stuff, but it’s not really fair to change the rules at the last minute,” said Paul Waye, a Dutch plogging evangelist who had passed up on some bulky trash because of the three-item rule.

Senegal will have to wait at least a year to have a plogging champion. Two hours after the end of Saturday’s race, Ba still hadn’t arrived at the finish line.

“My phone ran out of battery and I got lost,” Ba said later at the awards ceremony. “I’ll be back next year, but with a better phone.”

The race went better for Canuto. She used an abandoned shopping cart to wheel in her loot. It included a baby stroller, which the mother-to-be took as a good omen. Her total haul weighed a relatively modest 100 pounds, but was heavy on electronic equipment, which was enough for her to score her second triumph.

“I don’t know if I’ll be back next year to defend my title. The baby will be six or seven months old,” she said.

In the men’s ranking, Ortega, the Spanish plumber, brought in 310 pounds of waste, racked up more than 16 miles and climbed 7,300 feet to run away with the title.

Zanelli, the defending champion, didn’t make it onto the podium. He said he would take solace from the nearly new Neapolitan coffee maker he found during the first championship two years ago. “I’ll always have my victory and the coffee maker, which I polished and now display in my home,” he said.

Contestants collected more than 6,600 pounds of trash. The haul included fridges, bikes, dozens of tires, baby seats, mattresses, lead pipes, stoves, chairs, TVs, 1980s-era boomboxes with cassettes still inside, motorcycle helmets, electric fans, traffic cones, air rifles, a toilet and a soccer goal.

“This park hasn’t been this clean since the 15 century,” said Genoa’s ambassador for sport, Roberto Giordano.


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